AFC East: Zach Sudfeld

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets will be hurting at tight end Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Cumberland
Starter Jeff Cumberland, listed as questionable with a concussion, was declared inactive before the game. Kellen Winslow is serving the final game of his four-game suspension for PEDs, leaving Konrad Reuland and Zach Sudfeld as the only active tight ends active. Reuland, listed as the starter, and Sudfeld have combined for only 64 offensive snaps and three receptions. Neither one is a good blocker, so Cumberland's absence will hurt the running game. They could use G Vladimir Ducasse as a blocking tight end.

The good news for the Jets is that RG Willie Colon (calf), also listed as questionable, is active and will start.

Aside from Cumberland, the Jets' inactive players are QB David Garrard, WR Santonio Holmes, RB Alex Green, G Will Campbell, T Ben Ijalana and OT Oday Aboushi. WR Greg Salas and rookie S Rontez Miles, signed from the practice squad Friday, are active for the first time.

The news for the Saints is that WR Marques Colston (knee) is inactive. So, too, are safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. That will put a dent in Rob Ryan's game plan because he likes to use three-safety packages. Rafael Bush is expected to start for Jenkins.

Rookie Kenny Stills is listed as the replacement for Colston, but the Saints will use all four receivers that are active.

Their other inactives are QB Ryan Griffin, RB Khiry Robinson, T Terron Armstead and DE Tyrunn Walker.

Green Day: Crisis at tight end

November, 1, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- To say the New York Jets are hurting at tight end is an understatement.

With Jeff Cumberland (concussion) sidelined this week, and with Kellen Winslow serving the fourth game of a four-game league suspension, the Jets will face the New Orleans Saints Sunday with ... (drum roll, please)

Konrad Reuland and Zach Sudfeld at tight end.

Oh, boy.

Reuland and Sudfeld have played a total of 64 offensive snaps and have three receptions. Neither one is a good run-blocker, which could be a problem because the Jets should be in a run-oriented mode against the Saints' suspect rush defense.

What to do? The Jets have to get creative.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said there are a "handful" of players who can play multiple positions, hinting there could be some "double-dutying." Backup guard Vladimir Ducasse has been used as an extra blocker in the past, but there's a chance he could be pressed into right-guard duty if Willie Colon (bruised calf) can't play or can't finish the game. They could reach to the practice squad and elevate tight end Chris Pantale. Or -- who knows? -- maybe they can use defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. He played one snap on offense in the Week 5 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

All we know is that Reuland and Sudfeld, who began the season with the New England Patriots, will play.

"One guy [Sudfeld] probably has a little better skill set as a receiver, one's probably a little bit better blocker," Rex Ryan said. "So if Konrad starts, expect a run. If Sudfeld starts, expect a pass. No, it's not like that, but we will play them in different things. It's not just a set starter."

ICYMI: Cumberland and WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring) haven't practiced this week and won't play Sunday. It'll be Holmes' fifth straight game on the sideline. ... The Jets could use CB Antonio Cromartie to cover TE Jimmy Graham. Hey, why not? The Patriots used CB Aqib Talib on Graham a few weeks ago, and he shut him down. ... On Friday, former Jets G Brandon Moore will formally announce his retirement at the team's facility. ... WR David Nelson said he was fined by the league for his block on Cincinnati Bengals CB Adam "Pacman" Jones. Nelson said he will appeal. ... Check out this week's edition of "Gang Green Report." ... For the best Saints coverage, read my colleague Mike Triplett on the ESPN.com Saints team page.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Being asked to compare New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and New York Jets coach Rex Ryan is tricky business, but tight end Zach Sudfeld, who spent his first training camp with the Patriots but is on the Jets roster for their second AFC East matchup, handled it deftly.

“I think that it’s interesting,” Sudfeld said. “I’ve only been here a couple of weeks but they’re both extremely competitive and you can see that so there’s this under-layer of competitiveness, they both hate to lose. But they go about it in different ways. Rex is a lot more animated.”

Sudfeld was briefly nicknamed ‘Baby Gronk’ while in New England for his resemblance to Rob Gronkowski, who is questionable for Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium. At 6-foot-7, Sudfeld is an inch taller than Gronkowski, but is an unrefined version of the red zone threat that Gronkowski presents.

“I guess (the comparison is) flattering because he’s such a tremendous player,” Sudfeld said, “but I’m trying to make my own path.”

The Jets nabbed Sudfeld off waivers, becoming yet another player to tread the well-worn path between Foxborough and East Rutherford, for competitive value or gamesmanship.

“He’s a sharp, sharp young man, so we do our due diligence and try to get what we can out of him,” Ryan said.

Although Ryan admitted they did try to get some information from Sudfeld, the tight end downplayed his contribution.

“I think the Jets and Patriots have played so much that I think that they know the tendencies pretty well,” Sudfeld said. “I don’t know that there was too much that I was able to offer. Obviously I’m there to help out in any way that I can but I think they have a pretty good feel for what the Patriots are doing.”


A few thoughts on TE Kellen Winslow's being suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances:

1. Impact on the offense: Winslow's absence will hurt the passing game. Not only is he the team's leading receiver (17 catches), but the overall offense functions better when he's on the field. Facts are facts: With Winslow in the game as the only tight end, the Jets have passed 79 times for 516 yards -- 6.53 yards per play. With Jeff Cumberland as the only tight end, the Jets have passed 35 times for 198 yards -- a 5.66 average. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg hasn't used a lot of two-TE sets with Winslow and Cumberland. When he has, it hasn't been too productive -- 33 pass plays for 141 yards, a 4.27 average.

2. Depth chart: This will mean a bigger role for Cumberland, who has appeared in 51 percent of the offensive snaps. (In case you're wondering, Winslow is 60 percent.) Cumberland is a capable player and, as he demonstrated Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, he can be a threat in the deep seams. There won't be much of a dropoff there, but the problem is, it'll mean more playing time for Konrad Reuland and newly acquired Zach Sudfeld. Clearly, Reuland (only 12 snaps) hasn't found a niche in Mornhinweg's offense. He's a tight end/fullback tweener, not offering much in the passing game. Sudfeld, who stands 6 feet 7, played well for the New England Patriots in the preseason and was a surprise cut last week. Once he learns the offense, he could leapfrog Reuland on the depth chart.

3. There goes the feel-good story: Winslow, in a statement released through his publicist, said he was surprised by the suspension and claimed he hasn't taken any supplements that list banned ingredients. Nevertheless, this tarnishes a potentially wonderful story. Rejected by the rest of the league, Winslow signed with the Jets after a minicamp audition, made the team and became an important player. Because of chronic knee pain (multiple surgeries), every day is a struggle. It flared up recently, causing him to miss more practice time than usual. That probably contributed to his reduced role in Atlanta (and perhaps his postgame frustration), although he made his only catch count -- a toe-tapping reception in the back of the end zone. "I want to do a lot more in this game," he told me last week. "I don't know how much longer I have, but I want to give it my all until I'm done. "

Now he's done for four weeks.
Every Wednesday during the season, we'll lead off the day with a quick recap of some notable former New England Patriots players and their standing with new teams.

Patrick Chung (Eagles)
Misses his second straight game, a victory over the Giants, with a shoulder injury.
Season snapshot: Has started three of five games and is credited with 18 tackles.

Jermaine Cunningham (49ers)
After reaching an injury settlement with the Patriots at the end of the preseason, defensive end/outside linebacker signs with the 49ers on Oct. 1.
Season snapshot: Wearing jersey No. 50, he has yet to play in a game.

Brandon Deaderick (Jaguars)
Plays 33 snaps and totals three tackles in road loss to the Rams.
Season snapshot: Has played 122 total snaps; has totaled seven tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery.

Brian Hoyer (Browns)
Quarterback tears his ACL in his third start and is out for the season.
Season snapshot: Led the Browns to two wins in two starts before his injury; 57-of-96 for 615 yards with 5 TDs and 3 INTs.

Zoltan Mesko (Steelers)
Bye week after the Steelers had dropped to 0-4 in loss to Vikings in London.
Season snapshot: 20 punts for 41.9 average (31st in NFL) and 37.6 net (27th in NFL)

Trevor Scott (Buccaneers)
Bye week.
Season snapshot: 45 total snaps at defensive end.

Zach Sudfeld (Jets)
Claimed on waivers on Oct. 4
Season snapshot: Wearing jersey No. 44, tight end was inactive for Monday's win over the Falcons.

Donald Thomas (Colts)
Lands on season-ending injured reserve after injuring his quadriceps in Week 2 home loss to Dolphins.
Season snapshot: Was opening-day starter at left guard and now faces long rehab.

Wes Welker (Broncos)
Five catches for 49 yards and one touchdown in 51-48 win over Cowboys; plays 73 of 79 snaps.
Season snapshot: Receiver has played 275 of 373 offensive snaps (73.7 percent), and has 31 catches for 315 yards and seven touchdowns.

Danny Woodhead (Chargers)
Running back plays 45 of 72 snaps in road loss to Raiders and totals nine rushes for 13 yards, and adds nine receptions for 58 yards and TD. Also fumbles (returned for TD) and is stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Season snapshot: Is second on the team with 31 receptions (for 220 yards and 3 TDs), and has carried the ball 28 times for 103 yards. Has played 154 offensive snaps.

Zach Sudfeld lands with the Jets

October, 4, 2013
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Tight end Zach Sudfeld, waived by the New England Patriots on Thursday, was claimed by the New York Jets on Friday, according to ESPN's Rich Cimini.

Sudfeld
By claiming Sudfeld, the Jets absorb the balance of his contract.

The undrafted free agent was a standout during offseason workouts and training camp for the Patriots, shining in a preseason game against the Buccaneers as he worked to cement a roster spot.

He struggled out of the gate during the regular season, however, failing to catch a pass in Week 1 and dropping a throw that led to an interception. He was inactive during Week 2 due to a hamstring injury, and played a limited role in the following weeks.

The Patriots still have three tight ends on their active roster, though it is unclear if Rob Gronkowski, listed as questionable on the injury report, will play this Sunday.

Had Sudfeld cleared waivers, he would have been a logical choice to re-sign to the practice squad.

Patriots release TE Zach Sudfeld

October, 3, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots announced the release of rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld on Thursday, which could be an indication Rob Gronkowski is set to return.

Sudfeld
Sudfeld, an undrafted free agent out of Nevada who had a surprise emergence in training camp, didn't carry the momentum he had generated in the preseason into the regular season. He was used sparingly in Sunday night's 30-23 win against the Atlanta Falcons, playing eight snaps, and couldn't corral an onside kick that was recovered by the Falcons late in the fourth quarter.

If he clears waivers, he will likely return on the team's practice squad.

At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld is more of a receiver than a pure tight end. The first indication that he might be on shaky ground came when the Patriots started using four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui in the role eyed for Sudfeld -- the "move" tight end in the three-receiver package. Sudfeld played 17 snaps in the season-opener, missed the team's Sept. 12 win against the Jets with a hamstring, and then played 19 snaps against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22 before he was hardly on the field Sept. 29 versus the Falcons. He didn't record a catch this season.

The Patriots currently have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan as tight ends on the roster.

Positional groupings: Pats favor 3rd WR

September, 27, 2013
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One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings utilized by the New England Patriots' offense, as they reveal player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.

Here is the big takeaway through three games: The usage of multiple-tight-end packages is down considerably compared to the past two seasons. Here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 232 offensive snaps (including penalties, not kneel-downs):

3 or more WRs: 142 of 232
2 backs: 61 of 232
2 or more TEs: 51 of 232

There is a 22-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.

Four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui is playing most of the tight-end snaps.

When the Patriots added a second tight end last Sunday, it was either rookie Zach Sudfeld or veteran Matthew Mulligan. Sudfeld is more of a receiver-type, while Mulligan is more of a pure blocker. Because each of them trends clearly in one direction, it makes the Patriots a bit more predictable when they are in the game in multiple-tight-end packages.

So with a heavy focus on the passing game the first three weeks, it has essentially come down to a third receiver (most recently Aaron Dobson) being deemed more valuable than Sudfeld.

When Rob Gronkowski returns, it makes sense to think we could see an increase in multiple-tight-end groupings.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 1

September, 9, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the New England Patriots' 23-21 season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills:

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoPatriots running back Stevan Ridley did not get off to the stellar start he'd hoped for in Week 1.
Ridley’s place on running back depth chart: In 2012, Stevan Ridley played a team-high 45 percent of the Patriots’ running back snaps, and he appeared poised to reach a similar number this year based on the preseason and Sunday’s game in which he started. But a near-fumble in the first quarter (he was ruled down by officials), then a lost fumble in the second quarter that was returned 74 yards for a touchdown landed him a seat on the bench for the rest of the game. Does Ridley assume the No. 1 duties again Thursday night against the Jets? If not, it’s LeGarrette Blount or Shane Vereen.

Amendola’s groin injury and his availability: Receiver Danny Amendola left Sunday’s game at the end of the second quarter with a groin injury before returning in the third quarter. His gutsy, clutch performance drew raves. But after the game, Amendola was guarded about his condition and whether it might affect his availability for Thursday's game. “Right now, I just feel good about the win; that’s all that really matters to me,” he said. “We’ll figure everything else out later.”

Brady and the inconsistent passing game: For those used to seeing an explosive Tom Brady-led passing game, Sunday’s struggle was a bit of a culture shock. The inexperience of undrafted rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld showed up at times, and when Amendola wasn’t on the field, Brady didn’t look as comfortable as Amendola has quickly developed into his Wes Welker-type security blanket. On a related note, second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson (hamstring) didn’t dress for the game, and given some of the struggles in the passing game, his status on the injury report figures to be watched closely.

Can never have enough pass rush: Part of it might have been the Patriots’ willingness to concede extra rushers to keep running back C.J. Spiller and the scrambling ability of quarterback EJ Manuel in check, but the pressure with the standard four rushers didn’t seem to disrupt Manuel enough when he was in the pocket surveying the field. The starting defensive line of left end Rob Ninkovich, defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork and right end Chandler Jones can’t be thrilled with the zero in the sack column on Sunday.

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

September, 6, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Call it the final countdown. The regular season has kicked off for two teams, with just two more days until the Patriots take the field against the Bills in Buffalo (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET on CBS).

After an unusual offseason that saw countless unforeseen twists and turns, the Patriots are likely as ready as ever to get back on the field and begin the process of achieving their ultimate goal.

There are new faces aplenty in the receiver corps, while the defense looks much like the group from last season. The coaching staff is virtually unchanged, with Bill Belichick welcoming another familiar face in Brian Daboll back into the mix.

On Sunday, the Patriots have a chance to begin their division title defense against an AFC East foe while also trying to continue their recent dominance of the Bills. In fact, quarterback Tom Brady is 20-2 against the Bills in his career, a mark he hopes to further improve upon this weekend.

With kickoff right around the corner, here are five things we’ll be watching for when the Patriots take on the Bills.

1. Does preseason success translate into the regular season for receiving corps? Indications from the preseason are that the Patriots pass-catchers will hold up just fine, as Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and others have looked very much in sync with Brady. But the regular season is a new test and all eyes will be on this group -- particularly the rookies making their NFL debuts. If the Patriots hope to repeat their offensive success from last season, there can be no easing period for the new wideouts in New England.

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2. Can the secondary stay on the arc of progression? The Patriots secondary picked it up down the stretch in 2012, and with several pieces in place again this season, improvement is expected. It looks like the same starters from the end of 2012 will get the nod this season, with Kyle Arrington as the top reserve cornerback followed by Logan Ryan. It seems plausible that the third safety will be another third-rounder from Rutgers, as Duron Harmon may have leapfrogged Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner on the depth chart. This group needs to build off of its momentum from 2012.

3. Disrupting Manuel. In 17 games against rookie quarterbacks, the Patriots are 13-4 under Bill Belichick (all four losses, incidentally, have come on the road). They’ll have another first-year test in EJ Manuel, the top quarterback picked in this year’s draft and the hopeful franchise player in Buffalo for the future. While Manuel is considered a polished prospect, how much the Patriots will be able to disrupt and confuse him with multiple looks will, at least in part, dictate his NFL debut. Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots bring the heat with extra rushers.

4. Rotations at RB, TE, LB. From the more under-the-radar category, there’s some intrigue in how the team rotates its players at three positions: running back, tight end and linebacker. At tight end, supposing Rob Gronkowski is unable to play, how might the Patriots deploy their duo of healthy bodies? Will Sudfeld play the predominant number of snaps, or will it be a more balanced workload? At running back, it appears Shane Vereen will be cast in the role Danny Woodhead played last season, with LeGarrette Blount as a backup to workhorse Stevan Ridley. As it relates to the linebackers, who will align next to Jerod Mayo in sub defensive packages? Could top draft choice Jamie Collins get the nod, or might it be Brandon Spikes/Dont'a Hightower, as it was last season? Dane Fletcher could be in the mix, too.

5. Special-teams notes. The Patriots have a new punter for the first time since 2010, and it’s a test for rookie Ryan Allen to show he’s ready for NFL action. Beyond his punting responsibilities, Allen will be called upon to hold on the field goal team. That’s an underrated chore that he must show he’s capable to do consistently. On the kickoff return team, might we see Blount step up into the role that the team struggled with in 2012? If so, he’d qualify as one of the bigger return men in recent NFL action. Finally, the Patriots have no shortage of punt return options, including Amendola and Edelman, who is the only player to have a punt return for a score in each of the past three seasons.

Picked-up pieces around Patriots

September, 5, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some picked-up pieces from around the Patriots on Thursday:

1. Collins anxious, but ready. Top Patriots draft choice Jamie Collins is readying for his first NFL regular-season action, and the 23-year old can't wait to take the field on Sunday.

"Just anxious," the linebacker said of his first regular-season game. "I'm anxious to play, get out here and see what this regular season is all about."

After being worked on both defense and special teams, including several different defensive spots, Collins said that he's planning to take on any role the coaching staff has in mind for him. "I'm the type of guy that's going to do -- wherever they put me at, I'm going to go do it to the best of my abilities because I'm a team player. No matter what it is, I'm going to do it. No matter if it's quarterback, I'm going to go out there and play."

And while Orchard Park, NY might feel like a world away from Collins' hometown of McCall Creek, Miss., Collins knows his supporters back home will find a way to watch his game on TV.

"They're going to find it," he said. "No matter where it is, they'll find it."

2. Kelly and Ninkovich hold court. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and defensive end Rob Ninkovich were among the players drawing bigger media crowds, giving this day a real “defensive” feel.

One of the topics brought up to Kelly was how he was coming off the field in some sub situations in the preseason, and if he felt was ready to play an entire game if need be. He said he used to do that in Oakland, adding, “this ain’t my first rodeo.” He added that while Bills quarterback EJ Manuel can make plays with his feet, he wouldn't exactly compare him to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Ninkovich touched on how he complements fellow starting end Chandler Jones (Ninkovich is a lower-leverage player) as well as the importance of keeping Manuel in the pocket and not giving him big rush lanes.

3. White letting the coaches do the scouting. Linebacker Chris White, recently acquired via waivers, knows the Bills well, having spent two-plus seasons in Buffalo (2011 sixth-round pick) before being traded to Detroit last month. But he's letting his new coaches do the scouting report on the Bills.

"The coaches, they pretty much know a lot," he said on Thursday. "They know a lot by themselves, they really don't need a whole lot of help from me, but I'm sure it'll be a fun week, I'm looking forward to it."

He also noted that he's staying away from communicating with his ex-teammates this week before Sunday's kickoff and “sticking to myself.” For those unfamiliar with White's game, he offered a brief self-scouting report: "I feel like I play hard, I play with a lot of energy, and I prepare well. I'm just looking to win every week."

4. Hoomanawanui: Can't view Sudfeld as a rookie. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has been a popular player for reporters this week. On Sunday, he had been swarmed after Rob Gronkowski's return to the field. On Thursday, he fielded some questions on rookie Zach Sudfeld, who projects to a significant role as the team’s top “move” tight end.

"Everyone's played a lot of football. Zach is a rookie, but he's been here long enough, and he's played in enough preseason games, where you have to throw that out the window," he said.

Hoomanawanui has been impressed with how Sudfeld has grapsed the offense, adding that "he's doing a great job asking questions and following older veterans and taking their lead."

Patriots eligible for practice squad

August, 31, 2013
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Later today, the New England Patriots will finalize the first iteration of their 53-man roster. But the player puzzle doesn’t end there, as the team will begin constructing its practice squad, which can be up to eight players, on Sunday.

It would be no surprise for the Patriots to bring aboard players waived by other teams as members of their practice squad, but the unit will also likely include players waived by the team Saturday.

Below is a look at all current Patriots who still have practice-squad eligibility:

P Ryan Allen
DT Armond Armstead (on reserve/PUP)
LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
WR Josh Boyce
DE Michael Buchanan
LB Jamie Collins
LB Ja'Gared Davis
S Kanorris Davis
WR Aaron Dobson
DT Marcus Forston
DB Justin Green
DT Cory Grissom (on injured reserve)
S Duron Harmon
WR Mark Harrison (on reserve/PUP)
G Josh Kline
C/G Chris McDonald
CB Logan Ryan
WR Quentin Sims
TE Zach Sudfeld
LB Jeff Tarpinian
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
DT Joe Vellano
RB George Winn
OL Markus Zusevics (on injured reserve)
The Patriots have informed veteran tight end Jake Ballard that he will be released today, a source confirms.

The Patriots had waited a year to work with Ballard, who was claimed on waivers from the Giants on June 12, 2012, after undergoing serious knee surgery. Upon his return to the field in 2013 spring camps and then training camp, Ballard said that his knee wasn't back to the point where it was pre-injury, but that he was still working into form. He didn't always appear to be running well.

The 25-year-old played in all four of the team's preseason games, and his primary effectiveness came as an in-line blocker. He didn't catch a pass.

The release of Ballard is a mild surprise, although he did play deep into Thursday night's preseason finale. At the time, it was unclear if that was related to him gaining more comfort with his knee in game action, or if his spot was in jeopardy.

Now we have the answer.

With both Ballard and Daniel Fells told of their release today, the Patriots now have Rob Gronkowski, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui on the roster at tight end. This could be a sign that Gronkowski has a good chance to open the season on the team's 53-man roster.

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe first reported the news on Ballard.
After reviewing the first quarter of the Patriots’ 40-9 loss to the Lions, some picked-up pieces and observations:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Patriots' compact formations gave the Lions a numbers advantage in the box.
1. The Patriots' offense opened the game with a focus on compact formations. On their first play, a Stevan Ridley run for no gain, tight end Zach Sudfeld initially lined up in a lead-blocking fullback position before motioning to the left side of the line as a wing (a step behind the line of scrimmage and standing up). Tight end Jake Ballard was aligned in a similar position to the right side, although he crouched before the snap, almost as if he was on the field-goal protection unit. Receivers Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins aligned closer to the line of scrimmage, giving a true run-based look. The compact alignment brought safety Louis Delmas into the box before Tom Brady snapped the ball, giving Detroit a numbers advantage in the box -- 8 on 7. It’s hard for an offense to win in those situations, especially against a powerful defensive front like the Lions.

2. Edelman is one of the Patriots’ better blocking receivers, and in opening the game in some compact alignments, it seemed as if the Patriots were hoping to play to Edelman’s strengths in this area. But on a Ridley run for minus-1 yard on the Patriots’ third snap, Edelman looked to be responsible for picking up safety Louis Delmas, who again came down into the box and nicely timed the snap before surging through the defensive right side. Edelman couldn’t get over quick enough, in part because his path was altered as Ballard was engaged with Lions rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah and had been pushed back by a strong initial punch from Ansah. Unblocked, Delmas easily made the tackle. From Ridley’s perspective, this was a good example of how there was often simply nowhere to run.

3. The local broadcast crew on WBZ-TV had a nice isolation shot of Thompkins on his first catch, a 37-yarder down the left sideline in the first quarter. It showed Thompkins’ terrific footwork at the start of his route to get off the line of scrimmage and gain initial separation on Lions cornerback Darius Slay (second-round pick, Mississippi State). When it comes to receivers, plenty of focus is placed on 40 times and leaping ability, but the subtleties of route-running can sometimes be overlooked. Thompkins has struck us as a tactician in training camp, and this was a perfect example of that. It helped that Brady made a pre-snap adjustment after reading the defense, knowing he had Thompkins against man-coverage in a spot where the safety had a long way to go to help. Looked like a sharp pre-snap call by Brady, followed by an excellent throw. But it all started with Thompkins’ ability to get off the line cleanly.

4. On the play in which Sudfeld lost a fumble to end what had been a promising opening drive, the Patriots aligned both Sudfeld and Ballard to the right side of the line in a run-based look (YY wing). Receivers Aaron Dobson and Edelman were split wide to the left side. The Lions again had eight defenders in the box and when Brady executed a play-action to Stevan Ridley, the Lions’ linebackers had committed to the point that it opened a wide space between the linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field, which is what Sudfeld, up the seam, exploited. Everything about the play appeared to be perfectly executed ... except for the fumble. Some credit goes to Lions safety Glover Quin for jarring the ball free, but it still seemed as if Sudfeld could have tucked the ball away tighter.

5. One follow-up on Sudfeld: We’ve talked a lot about his pass-catching abilities, which look like they are at competitive NFL levels, but haven’t focused as much on his blocking and how that is probably the one area that calls for the most development. On the play in which Thompkins dropped a pass to end the Patriots’ second drive, Sudfeld, initially lined as a wingback on the left side was called upon to block fourth-year end Willie Young one-on-one. Young got him off balance and closed in quickly on Brady, speeding up Brady's clock to get rid of the football. For Sudfeld to be viewed as more of a pure tight end, as opposed to a receiver playing tight end, this is the area to focus on. On Brandon Bolden's 6-yard run with four minutes left in the quarter, Sudfeld had a nice seal block on end Jason Jones, showing he’s willing to mix it up.

6. Lions running back Reggie Bush is dangerous in space, as the Patriots experienced on his 67-yard catch-and run on third-and-10 with 9:18 left in the first quarter. The Patriots were in a dime package (6 defensive backs), with linebacker Jerod Mayo entering for his first play of the game along with Adrian Wilson, the safety who aligned to the left of Mayo in a linebacker-type role. Those were the two defenders who had the best chance to limit Bush’s yards after the catch, but both over-pursued toward the sideline, leaving Bush the inside part of the field to shake free. Safety Steve Gregory had blitzed as a fifth rusher off the defensive right side, forcing a quick release from quarterback Matthew Stafford, so between the blitz and the over-pursuit by Mayo and Wilson, it led to the big play. It looked like a good play-call by the Lions against the blitz, but still one that shouldn't have gone for 67.

7. End Rob Ninkovich looked like one of the team’s best defensive players, and a three-play series on the Lions’ second drive highlighted his versatility. On first down, he was unblocked off the left side as Stafford handed off to Bush, and Ninkovich brought down Bush -- who could have had an open cutback lane if Ninkovich hadn’t maintained his edge -- for a loss of minus-4 yards. On the next play, Ninkovich was dropping back into coverage (incomplete pass). Then on third down, he initially rushed, but when the ball was out quickly, he chased down Bush from behind and was credited with a tackle that forced a punt. Ninkovich wears Mike Vrabel’s old No. 50 jersey and the more you watch him, you can see some similarities. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be catching passes as a goal-line tight end next week.

8. Veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly is a powerful presence at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, and plays with what Bill Belichick described as “long levers.” On a “sudden change” situation, in which the Patriots’ defense had to stem the momentum after Bolden lost a fumble at the New England 19 with 3:21 remaining, Kelly simply powered his way through rookie right guard Larry Warford. Too powerful -- the veteran schooling the youngster on how it’s done. With Kelly on the interior, the Patriots have the potential to get more interior penetration in 2013. He looks like a decisive upgrade over last year’s co-starters Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
9:15
AM ET
DETROIT -- At an initial glance, a look at players whose performance was "up" in the Patriots' loss to the Lions, and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:

Up
Rob Ninkovich -- Defensive end was all over the field, finishing with six tackles and a half-sack.

Logan Ryan -- Rookie cornerback is pressed into action with the top sub defense and is competitive, at one point batting a pass away from tight end Tony Scheffler.

First-unit third-down defense -- While not a specific player, the entire unit gets a nod as it holds the Lions to 2-of-9 in the first half, with three stops inside the red zone.

Down
Brandon Bolden/Shane Vereen -- Running backs both lose fumbles in the first half.

Zach Sudfeld -- Rookie free-agent tight end loses a fumble on the team's opening drive, ending what had been a promising march.

Adrian Wilson -- Safety plays linebacker-type role in dime package but seems to be a step behind.

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